A dialogue :: Two draughtsmen (Roldán/Ortiz)

We went to see an exhibition of two artists we like at Galería Casas Riegner, in Chapinero: Luis Roldán and Bernardo Ortiz.

The exhibit was set up in the form of a “dialogue” between the two artists. The curators seem to have (on purpose) left with no label the individual works, perhaps assuming a visitor would just follow the line of dialogue, with as little reference as possible.

After a while, the two individual voices start to emerge more clearly, more precisely, and a kind of counterpoint slowly fills the initial void. Two men (photos taken from the web, Roldán in a dotted shirt, Ortiz in a striped polo), two different generations, a bit like a cello in duo with a clarinet: Roldán (born in 1955) emerges as a somewhat darker voice, perhaps more grounded and firmer, perhaps only; Ortiz [born in 1972) brings an extremely fine-threaded element, a treble playfulness, a pleasure in attention to detail and touch.

At some point, I was taken by Roldán’s own personal reading of classical American painters. He sketches with gouache on top of Hopper, Cassatt, Wood, etc.; blocking view and thereby bringing out what he sees, what is in view, that element that is maybe just a corner of a painting, that center of image taken away, that small element of a classical painting that is perhaps responsible for the iconicity of a work.

Consider the “Hopper” just above, redrawn by Roldán. Only the tip of the chimney remains of the “original”. The shadow of the house is still there, as in a mist, as in a sketch. The ground is slightly more illuminated, more openly drawn.

Just as in this reinterpretation of Hopper’s House by the Railroad, Roldán has a whole collection of classical American painters, redrawn this way. One could spend hours in just that part of the exhibition. Here is a small selection:


After such a strong statement by Roldán, what is Ortiz’s response?

Subtlety. The power of the line. The amazing emergence of landscape from almost nothing, from a bunch of lines drawn with a pencil on a piece of paper. Each individual line extremely lonely and akin to a mark you or I would make to signal, shyly, some end of a list, some mathematical closure, the most trivial idea.

Yet look at the field of forces that suddenly starts to form when all those “shy” lines start playing:

And let the whole game go through:

An amazing landscape, reminiscent of so many mountains around us here in Colombia perhaps, has emerged. I re-photographed it with another kind of illumination, so as to get the shadows:


The two previous are just the beginning of a dialogue. Here is some more (as you walk the gallery you may allow your mind be engaged by the two voices; look at the folds, at the reconfiguration of dramatic vistas from apparently innocuous elements, the power of lists, the edges of paper, the trace of the hand cutting holes in paper, almost elementary school-like, yet so powerful amidst this wonderful explosion – also, try to guess who’s who but also allow yourself to forget individualities – in my case, one of the works completely took me by surprise when I was told who is the author):


There is much more, of course. This rather narrow description I gave just tries to capture the emotional state such a dialogue may perhaps create in a viewer. I was extremely moved.

I close this small tribute to their dialogue, to their fused (and at times opposing) voices with images of a work (made with threads on fabric) that made me feel the weight of our times, the difficulty of our age, the oppression of lists and of statistics and daily numbers – and at the same time allowed my mind to find a path to fly beyond our dirt. Here it is:

2 thoughts on “A dialogue :: Two draughtsmen (Roldán/Ortiz)

  1. Some people don’t understand nonfigurative art, but here may be where the notion of dialogue may be important. If you think, “I too can fill up a sheet of paper with little lines!” then maybe that’s the point: you *can* do it and learn something in the process. When the Hirshhorn Museum opened in DC when I was 9, I was inspired to make my own sculpture out of a small glass pill bottle, a wad of cotton, and a square of aluminum foil. (I can add though that the Hirshhorn show “Representation Abroad” in 1985 was also inspirational; one of the 16 featured artists was Juan Cárdenas)

  2. It’s an interesting point, that dialogue might be important for the understanding of non-figurative art. I don’t think Ortiz and Mejía had that point in mind when unfolding their own dialogue, though. Still, it is true that dialogue may trigger much more than the mere sum of statements by the two sides.

    Juan Cárdenas is inspirational in many ways. But perhaps his brother, (figurative, yet…) painter Santiago Cárdenas is even more inspirational. His collection of erased blackboards is truly wonderful, in many ways.

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